Wright Heerema Architects’ Richard Fawell: Around the world and back to work in Chicago

May 27, 2016  |  Staff Writer  |  Print Article  |  Email this Article

Richard during his stay in Finland.

Richard during his stay in Finland.

Richard Fawell’s career in architecture has taken him from Helsinki, Finland to Cambridge, Massachusetts to Chicago to Beijing, China. Now the Naperville, Illinois native’s second homecoming to Chicago comes as he joins acclaimed Chicago-based architectural firm Wright Heerema Architects as principal.

At Wright Heerema, known for its corporate office buildings and interior design projects, he’s charged with growing its hospitality and mixed-use practice. He brings more than 35 years of experience designing mixed-use developments, hotels and resorts, multi-family communities, government buildings, higher education facilities, and theaters.

He says the architecture industry is experiencing growing demand for mixed-use and master-plan development, which meshes well with his reputation for walkable, livable and thoughtfully planned destinations.

“Many communities are looking for that traditional downtown where multi-family residential buildings, hospitality, and workplaces co-exist and support one another,” he explains. “Right now, multifamily is driving the demand, and I think corporate offices and retail will follow as the need for businesses to cater to the people moving in grows.”

For his previous firm, Fawell worked in Beijing for nine years. His office created 30 master plans and specialized largely in hotel architecture and interiors working with all the major hotel operators on 26 five-star luxury hotels and resorts throughout Asia. “We were extremely busy and the projects and opportunities were wonderful.”

During his stay in China, Richard enjoyed sightseeing.

During his stay in China, Richard enjoyed sightseeing.

His return to Chicago is especially sweet because it’s home to one of the projects of which he’s proudest, Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, which he led for previous firm VOA Associates.

“It was the culmination of the entire Navy Pier rebuilding process – and the most rewarding,” he notes. “It took some convincing to get the organization to come around to a new home on Navy Pier.”

Once they were on board, Fawell worked closely with Chicago Shakespeare’s Artistic Director Barbara Gaines and Executive Director Criss Henderson to bring their mission to fruition in the new location, even traveling with them to London to research other Shakespearean companies’ theaters. “Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s visibility to Chicagoans and reputation around the world has only grown since they’ve moved to Navy Pier,” he says. “But what’s most exciting to me is that more than 40,000 Chicago school children get to experience Shakespeare at the theater each year.”

Though he's traveled the globe, Richard will always call Chicago home and enjoys downtime with friends at Navy Pier.

Although he’s traveled the globe, Richard will always call Chicago home. He enjoys spending his downtime with family like in this photo taken at Navy Pier.


Fawell also holds his work in higher education close to his heart. He led the design of Colleges of Business at Illinois State University and the University of Wisconsin and student recreation centers at the University of Illinois and at Fairmont State in West Virginia, among other projects. “Higher education work gives you a great feeling because you’re providing designed buildings that will benefit a university community for 40, 50 – or maybe 100 years.”

Education, the arts, sports and fitness have not only defined Fawell’s professional life, but his personal life as well. A father of three now-grown children, he says his passions have been largely driven by the interests of his children. He and his wife, a professor of languages, also imparted their interests in design, languages and culture, and travel on their children. They recently brought their oldest son and his wife on a trip to Helsinki, where he was born, and where Fawell worked with early mentors Simo and Kapy Paavilainen.

Though Fawell has traveled to and worked in cities around the world, he doesn’t hesitate when asked his favorites, “For me, the answers are easy: Stockholm and Miami. “I love dynamic cityscapes that have water infiltrating throughout the city.”

And now he’s glad to be back in another dynamic city on the water – sweet home Chicago.


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